"Buried deep in the storehouse of our subconscious are precious keepsakes and timeless treasures. These are memories of a time and portraits from a place we call yesterday. Occasionally, if only for a while something beckons us there again."
When I read that line in "The Story of Pa," it had been so very long since I let myself drift back into those sun-drenched summer days I spent running through tall grass, swimming in ponds and riding bikes down a dirt road. Today, the quote drew me back once again and I allowed myself to be swept to the joyous moments of my childhood; those truly precious keepsakes that I have from my early years.
Probably my most precious portrait is that of my Grandfather, Solomon Delbert Besherse. I don't as much have a picture portrait as I have a feeling etched on my heart. The feeling is that of love unconditional. My grandparents both shared that love for the 12 grandkids living within that 1/2 mile radius which encompassed 4 homesteads and 100 acres of apple orchard in Washington State. We would often pop into the house only 1/4 mile away to come say hi... only to find that Grandpa was in the middle of reading the Bible aloud to Grandma. She would be sitting there knitting or doing some other hand project, attentively listening to him. We thought nothing of it, knowing our place was on a sofa or on the floor, patiently listening until his selection was completed. That truly is not just a memory for me. It is a treasure.
Grandpa read that book, but he also lived it. Evidence of his belief was seen by how he loved his wife. I have come to believe that this one factor can tell you what a man is like in his deepest heart; how he treats his wife. I watched him love her in so many dear and tender tangible ways - realizing even at that young age that this kind of love was not commonplace. He was a family man too, always welcoming his grandkids with eager joy and a big bear hug. He lived it in intimacy with his wife, in corporation with his extended family, but he also lived it in his community as a member of his political party. He would travel to the State Capital to lobby for his convictions, speaking his mind, writing letters, effecting change in his world. He felt it was his great honor and responsibility to do so as a free man in a free society. He also refused to be considered one who is apathetic - a good man who did nothing.
Our family had only a few traditions, but they still run deep and strong to this day. The Besherses gathered for Thanksgiving each year. We lived with each other day to day in that little 1/2 mile radius. But when Thanksgiving came we would just spread the glue thick, bonding together in love, laughter and food. Grandma and the other women would spend who-knows-how-long on the preparations for the meal. My grandparents did not own a television, so the men would sit around and talk politics, religion or work.
I don't recall in those days that much extended family would come visit. Only since that generation has grown have I witnessed the larger extended gatherings. What I do remember is a man from our community who didn't have family of his own that gathered, yet he was always present at our Thanksgiving table and many times throughout the year. He was welcomed in as a part of our family without question. I remember realizing that we were reaching out as a family in love to this man. It had a tremendous impact on me, teaching me by example of grace and acceptance. To this day there will be a non-family member (or several) at the Thanksgiving table. But if you were a stranger observing this, you would be hard pressed to be able to tell which one is the non-family member. The love and acceptance will not be different on account of blood relation. To the Besherses, everyone is precious and worthy of love.
One particular Thanksgiving when I was about 12, the kids all gathered in Grandma's sewing room. We started pulling out her yards of fabric and pretending like we were movie stars, warriors, Queens & Kings. That day we decided that we would put on a play for the adults. We talked over the options of what we would bring to them. I don't remember the story line of the first play we ever did, but I do recall the efforts of casting this person for this part, that one for another, this person the narrator, etc. I was the second oldest of the then 10 grandkids, so, by default, I was one of those in charge.
Though I don't remember the actual content of the performance, what does paint that portrait in my mind is the way the adults handled it. We came down the stairs in an orderly fashion, lined the kids up just out of sight of the living room, all decked out in their painstakingly, elegantly made costumes.
They were a sight for sure. 9 year old Keith with a yardstick usually used to measure the length of a hem from the floor to far below the knees. Today, the yardstick was his trusty sword and he was playing the part of someone OLD... well over 20 years old! Kathy with wide, eager eyes, always had to be the star. Yards of fabric draped her little 8 year old body, tied with upholstery cord with matching ric-rac hair ribbons. Amy at 7, only happy to help and comply, doing whatever Kathy told her to do. Alan and Leroy, 7 and 8 year old cousins, running around with more energy than they really deserved to have. They were good for a speaking line or two, then they were off wrestling with each other again. The rest of the crew was the same, fabric, ric-rac, seam tape, spoons for microphones, flip-flops for elegant high heals.
I went to the living room to announce our intentions. All the adults were chatting, a couple of women were in the kitchen. I said, "We would like to do a play for you." Everyone stopped and looked at me, giving me their full attention and respect. "Oh! Ok!" Grandpa exclaimed. "Ma, come on in here. The kids are going to put on a play for us!" Grandma came in, drying her hands on the front of her apron, an eager look on her face. Everyone else followed suit. If it was important to Grandpa, they honored his opinion and it immediately became important to them. I announced the title and went back out of sight. The narrator came out speaking into his spoon and we began our presentation.
There was attention, laughter throughout the play and a roaring applause at the end of our short first-effort. We gathered up in the sewing room ... well, those of us who had any sort of attention span that is. We were thrilled with the response from the adults and we talked about what we would do next time. That day another tradition was born.
The next play we did was the following Thanksgiving. As we were preparing our costumes we decided we needed a name for our production team. Grandma and Grandpa were rock hounds and always had the most beautiful tumbled rocks around the house. Kathy had been carting around one of those rocks. "Let's name it Pretty Rock Plays" she suggested, and we did just that.
The treasure in that memory follows me today. Feeling at 12 years old, that the most important people in my life valued my thoughts, opinions and creativity and those of all the children in our family. Valued enough to suspend all of the lofty discussions of politics, religion and high finances of marketing to a global economy in exchange for a moment of lovin' on the little ones.
I believe in God, and I believe that this kind of human initiated honor for me helps me to understand God's love for me. It also teaches me how to love others. Family or non-family, everyone is worthy of being loved. I do so treasure the love of my Grandfather and his commitment to follow his convictions; his commitment to build, practice and maintain his faith by studying then practicing the principles he found in God's Word.
This year if you happen to need a place to go for Thanksgiving, I have not a doubt in the world that there's a place for you at the table of the Besherse family. Be prepared though, because the children will be doing a Pretty Rock Play. It's just the way it's done around there; painting a portrait of what those little ones will call yesterday - a place where they learned love, grace, acceptance and value.